Work From Home Reality: Ugly Confessions of a 25-Year Mom

Ugly Confessions of a Work From Home Mom. Makealivingwriting.com.It sounds like every parent’s dream: work from home, be with the kids, and earn a good living. Visions of happy, contented kids frolicking at your feet while you’re super-creative at the keyboard dance in your head.

The reality is a bit different.

I’ve written a lot about freelance writing in the past decade — over 1,000 posts — but I rarely write about being a work from home mom. Even though I’ve been one for literally a lifetime.

My two younger kiddos are now moving into their late teens. Recently, my oldest turned 25.

That milestone made me realize I’ve spent almost exactly half those 25 years freelancing from home. And I spent the other half mostly in remote full-time jobs where I was home-based, too.

That’s a lot of work-from-home experience that I’ve never really shared tips about. So here goes.

Buckle up, because some of this won’t be pretty. Here are the lessons I’ve learned as a longtime freelance writer and home-based mom:

Your kids will never understand

This one took a long time to sink in, for me. But to kids, computers mean: fun time!

You will explain patiently, hundreds of times, in progressively age-appropriate ways, that you are using the computer to earn the money the family needs to stay fed and housed.

And they will never believe you.

As soon as you sit down at the keyboard, they will shriek: “Print me out a coloring page, mommy! A mermaid. No, not that mermaid. Show me other ones! Waaahh…”

And so on. While you desperately try to keep that blog-post or article idea in your head, they will wail and thrash about on the floor.

Meanwhile, you feel like a giant has a meaty hand on either side of your brain and is slowly ripping it in two.

You’ll calmly (or not so calmly) explain that you need quiet time to think and write. That it’s important.

And they will insist you play that Recess Monkey tape full blast.

It is THE primary challenge of the stay at home, freelancing mom, to make kids understand you’re really working. They think you’re ‘having fun’ or ‘just typing’ or ‘watching videos.’

Try explaining that your time on Facebook promotes your writing, or that you’re watching instructional videos so you can charge more. Be my guest. Good luck.

There simply isn’t the clarity for kids that comes with putting on work clothes and driving away. Kids of parents who work outside the home think, “Oh, there goes mommy off to work. …and now here comes mommy back from work, and now her time is mine.”

I wish I could say I found a solution here, but I never really did. For my kids, going to a co-working space during summer breaks, and otherwise having a home office with a door that locks — that’s about as close as I got to creating clarity that “mommy’s working now.”

My 16-year-old daughter still firmly believes I’m ‘just typing’ and should be able to stop and buy her stuff on Amazon. Right now.

Fight to keep work and family separate

The biggest danger in working from home is that your writing time basically expands to fill all the available space. Work can easily never end. And then, it’s kids begging for attention they don’t get from you, all day long.

It becomes a negative in your relationship, instead of a better scene than working a day job, like you’d hoped.

Don’t let this happen.

For many years, I had an alarm on my computer to remind me to turn it off 30 minutes before kids got home. Then, I could fix that snack, clear my head, and be fully present when they got off that bus.

Holster that smartphone and keep business hours. You don’t need to check email after dinner. I promise. Kids get that you’re ignoring them, and they super-hate it — visit any park to see the sad scenarios.

You won’t be with your kids 24/7

As that little opening vignette hinted, the fantasy that you’ll be a loving, attentive parent to your kids and also write or market a lucrative freelance biz at the exact same time dies quickly, if you work from home.

It’s nearly impossible to do both at once, and do either with any success.

Even if you feel comfortable parking your kid in front of the TV 8 hours a day (a single hour bothered me and I rarely used this option), it won’t solve their need for meals/snacks/fight referee/hugs/boo-boo fixes/fresh outfits/storytime/outside time/homework help and more.

Soon, you’ll look for a way to get in your work time while your kids are not around. Solutions I’ve used through the years include:

  • preschool and summer camp enrollment
  • full-time summer nanny
  • young mother’s helper
  • working 8-midnight
  • working dawn to 8 am
  • working during naps
  • getting partner to take kids out Sundays
  • working opposite hours from spouse
  • babysitting co-ops (I sit both our kids now, you sit them next)
  • co-working offsite while husband stayed home with kids
  • after-school sports, arts, and child-care programs

Being a work from home mom is not like being a stay-at-home mom who is not working. You will not gaze into Sally’s big blue eyes all day and chant nursery rhymes.

Some of the time, someone else will be with your kids. You can minimize the amount of lost kid time, though…with help.

Get help to preserve kid time

There’s time we often spend with kids that isn’t real high-quality, in my view. Slogging around the grocery store, for one. Mopping the floor.

Consider outsourcing some of this stuff, so you preserve the precious bedtime-story, going to a movie, park, or whatever you treasure doing most with your kids.

Groceries get delivered these days. Hire someone on TaskRabbit to do household errands and chores. You’ll never regret it. Accept that you cannot, in fact, do it ALL.

You’re trying to do the most important job there is — raise humans — and run a business. It’s a massive undertaking. You need help. Don’t feel guilty about it.

Kiss sleep goodbye

How will your writing work get done, as well as all the mommy-and-me time?

The answer is often that you will sleep a lot less. Early on, I optimized my sleep at around 6.5 hours. That’s it. I can take a 15-minute nap later, and it’s like a whole new day has dawned.

You may be wondering about the other person in this equation. You’ll need to make time for them, too, right?

Don’t let couple time fade away

If you’re a single parent, maybe this isn’t your top concern. But if you’re part of a couple, combining young kids and a home-based business is an easy recipe for zero togetherness. And divorce. I know folks it’s happened to.

You’ll have to be a valiant warrior, fighting for your couple time. Ninja swords out!

When kids were little, my husband and I were pro at staying up later to talk, watch TV, touch, and laugh together. In more recent years, we’ve had a religiously observed date night. It’s worth the sitter money, trust me.

Lower your standards

Bulletin: Your house is not about to be photographed for a lifestyle magazine. It can be messy. You wouldn’t believe the shoe pile by my front door.

As I write this, the last falling birch leaves from the trees next door litter my entry floor. My daughter’s laundry-room art table is an unusable mound of clothing, pens, watercolor boxes, paintbrushes. Clothing cascades from there to the floor.

My response is to gently…close the door. Value your creativity more than perfection in housekeeping.

Lowering your standards about how picked-up and perfect everything has to be is one of the best gifts you can give yourself, as a work-from-home parent.

The same thing goes for your writing work for clients. Stop endlessly researching and rewriting, put the hammer down, and press ‘send.’ As my pal Linda Formichelli likes to say, do B-minus work. Perfectionism is the enemy of the juggling, work-from-home parent.

Lower standards mean more kid time. And your clients won’t know the difference, honestly.

Be entertaining

One thing I think is super-important is that kids see you have friends, and that you offer hospitality in your home. When you’re juggling home-based work, kids, and a relationship, it’s easy for friends to fall off the priority list.

Don’t let that happen.

Have a dinner party. It doesn’t matter if everything’s a mess. Hold a game night. Let your kids see that you have your own playdates.

Step away from the fridge

Working from home is for the self-disciplined.

If you’re the type who can’t keep yourself on a schedule, say no to friends who want you to run their errands, and avoid emptying the fridge into your piehole all day, being a work from home parent probably isn’t a good choice for you.

Especially with kids in the mix, you’re going to want to be like Mussolini — make those trains run on time. Routines make kids feel happy and secure, and they make freelance writing possible for busy parents. It may feel a hair autocratic, but trust me, it’s a win-win.

If I didn’t know how to make preschoolers go to bed at 7:45 pm every weeknight, you wouldn’t be reading my blog today. It wouldn’t exist.

You’ll never miss a performance

OK, enough ugliness. There are benefits to being a work from home parent! Definitely, yes.

One of those I’m most proud of is that I have never had to miss a kid’s teacher meeting, clarinet performance in band, play, gymnastics meet, soccer game. Nothing. Ever.

While the day-job parents sadly arrive covered in sweat from their late train minutes after Johnny finished reciting his poem, you won’t have to live with that guilt. Set your own hours and prioritize the moments in your kids’ lives that matter.

This. Is. Why. We. Do. It.

Your kids will learn entrepreneurship

Remember that 25-year-old? He’s now my social-media manager.

If you want your children to learn to be more than corporate drones, and pursue work they love, there’s no better way than to model it yourself.

They may resent that you’re ‘typing’ when they want your attention, but as they grow up, they’ll come to respect that you’ve created your own business and paid the bills, with nothing but your brain and computer.

You won’t miss meals

The parents I felt the sorriest for on my journey were the ones who had to leave for day jobs so early that their kids ate breakfast at the before-school day care.

To me, that’s a deal-breaker. Food is love and bonding and family time — and hey, we’re already losing you for lunch at school! Eating breakfast with kids is something you can swing, as a stay-at-home parent.

Ditto for dinner. My kids were never those last, sad kids still in care at 6 or 7 p.m., eating a dinner they packed. Work from home, and you get to share those important mealtimes with your kids.

Make vacation memories

I’ll never forget the evil years when my husband sold cars 80 hours a week for Toyota — and we could never vacation. Because he couldn’t get ‘permission’ to go (any of the times we wanted, anyway).

Want 8 weeks off a year? You can make it happen, when you work from home. You make the schedule. And all that time to be together with kids, instead of parking them in spring-break camps because you have to keep working, is a chance to make a lot of great family memories. Freelancing also allowed us to take nicer vacations –the kind that don’t involve a tent or crashing on a relative’s couch.

You’ll be resilient

Special note for the ladies: As Barbara Ehrenreich noted, a man is not a plan. I’ve coached many writers who waited until after kids left home to try to resume their career…and it’s brutal.

My dad was a pioneer in believing his girls needed careers and to be able to take care of themselves, no matter what.

Remember that partners die. They leave. They turn out to be abusive and need to be left.

Freelance writing is a great, flexible way to pay bills and maintain your independence. Having another sphere of competence besides being a parent gives you the tools and resilience to thrive, no matter what life throws your way.

Work from home — beats the alternative

Obviously, it’s been a long, crazy ride as a work-from-home mom for me. Has it been perfect? Hell, no.

But at the end of the day, I love it. I am the master of my fate.

I feel like I became the person I was meant to be. A mom. An entrepreneur. A crusader for fair writer pay. A wife. A coach. All of it at once. That’s how I’ve spent my wild, precious life.

There are compromises, every day. It’s messy and imperfect. But I can’t imagine having spent the past decade-plus in a dead-end cubicle job. I shudder to think what sort of mom I would have been, in the tiny slivers of remaining time your boss grants you.

What’s your work from home experience, parents? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

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19 comments on “Work From Home Reality: Ugly Confessions of a 25-Year Mom
  1. Kathie says:

    Oh yeah … ‘working at home’ does NOT mean no childcare.
    Just like a corporate office, kids + work = doesn’t mix.

  2. Dorothy B. says:

    The illustration for this blog post has really, truly given me *nightmares*.

    That kid gesturing *with his fist* [major gasp] to his mother makes me wonder who came up with this graphic. The whole image is disturbing: damaged living room, a helpless hopeless Mom, ~and~ THAT kid screaming to the person who birth him — OUCH!

    Re-do this picture in the style of Dr. Suess’ Thing 1 & Thing 2 racing down the hallway instead… *please.*

    Because that other illustration makes freelance writing mom look beyond pitiful!

    Ok…I’ll get off my soap box now.
    Dorothy B.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Dorothy, I guess as a mom of mentally ill teens, that image spoke to me. Most parents probably can’t imagine what we go through, or how many families deal with kids who act out. Obviously, it shows a worst-case scenario…but a lot of work-from-home parents deal with just that.

  3. I no longer have kids at home – my youngest is (gulp) 27 – but I found that my kids were easier to train than my husband. Once I’d been working from home for a couple of months, they got the concept that when I was at my desk I was working. The rule of thumb was, don’t bother me unless the house is on fire or someone is bleeding. I made regular forays out of my office to check in with them, answer questions, provide snacks, etc., my mom version of Pomodoro.

    It helped that, when I started working from home full time, they ranged from high school down to toddler, so the older ones could and did help with the youngest.

    My husband, OTOH, took years to train. After a very long time I adopted a strategy, that, over time, worked. More or less. When he interrupted me, I would listen for a minute, then look him right in the eye and ask, “if I were working for someone else in their office, would you have called to tell me this?” If the answer was no, I would simply get back to work.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re giving me a chance to appreciate my husband, who is super-great about it! I’m not sure he’d interrupt me if the house was on fire. SO respectful of my creative time!

  4. Debbie Kane says:

    All of this! I’ve been a freelance writer for 11 years and started when my older daughter was going into middle school. My biggest challenge was communicating to my daughters and husband that working at home means WORKING. And my now 22-year-old and 19-year-old finally get it! Having a home office with a door really helps ;).

  5. I just made the switch from 9-5 to freelance after the birth of my second child last summer. So now I have a toddler and a baby. I already don’t get sleep.
    The hardest part for me is lack of a solid timeframe in which I can focus. Since my littles are still REALLY little, there is still not a lot of consistency.
    An additional challenge is learning (from articles and courses) while still having paid gigs that I need to get done. It feels a lot like the rest of parenthood: Just trying to make it work and seeing what sticks.

    • Carol Tice says:

      For me, this is the mother’s helper situation. You find a responsible 9- or 10-year old who can toddle around after toddler, get them juice, tell you when the baby wakes up. At one point, we found two 12-yr-old-boys who were oldest of a family of 12 kids, and they’d come run my 2 around the yard for a couple hours. You’re there in case there are any issues, but likely they can keep kid occupied. And that gives you that reliable block. Also, can DH take 4 hours on Sunday or something? That was another big one for me.

      The weird thing is even though now you feel like you would literally kill someone with your bare hands if you could sleep for a few nights without interruption, in the future, these will be looked back on as the best years of your life. 😉 Enjoy!

  6. I don’t have kids myself, but I still found a lot in this post that was relevant. The people who “never understand” you’re actually WORKING can include spouses, parents, neighbors, and acquaintances of all stripes (“What do you mean, you’re too busy to pick up my dry cleaning while I’m at work?”). The idea that everyone is “supposed to” be in (or on their way to, or coming home from) an office 5 days a week, 11 hours a day is deeply ingrained in our society, and never mind that half the population are killing themselves working overtime at jobs they hate.

    And I really connected with “be willing to do B- work” (though I doubt I’ll ever be able to make myself aim lower than a B+). One of my New Year’s resolutions is to give a maximum of 10 minutes work per 100 words to all regular projects (including my own blogs) I should know well enough by now not to have to edit six times.

  7. I think this is a great, complete summary and guide. I wasn’t nearly this efficient when my kids were at home, but the basic principles I worked to were the same as what you’re saying, and they were good ones. I never hired help but I can see what a good idea that is. In any case, working from home really can be better, and you’ve amply shown why.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Aliza, I’ve mentored SO many new-mom writers who’re like, “I’m just not getting any traction on my business, I feel like a failure.” And they have ZERO help with kids. I mean, either this is going to go real slow, building your biz, or somebody’s gotta pitch in. Oh yeah — I should have added “my mom comes over and takes baby for 4 hours” — that was another big one for me when my first was born and she lived near. Sure missed that with the later two, when we’d moved north!

      • Moms are great! I was lucky that I started freelancing and remote working when my kids were already teenagers. I could NOT have managed at all when they were little. I do like, “somebody’s gotta pitch in.” YES.

  8. Mary says:

    Thanks, Carol for being honest. I too have been struggling with kids who do not understand working from home and also from the endless chores at home. An untidy house is not a perfect place to work in. But somehow I juggle to make sure my priorities are finished. This is an on-going process and I’m taking my baby steps. Unlike in an office, I tend to get distracted so often with neighbors and friends who don’t understand what it means to work from home.

  9. Michelle Cornish says:

    Thank you, Carol! I often see articles about how easy it is to work from home with kids and laugh or wondering what I’m missing! It’s nice to see an honest and realistic article on this topic.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, I know what you mean… ‘earn six figures in your pajamas, work your own hours, homeschool your kids and get them into Harvard, all at the same time!’ Not.

  10. Denise says:

    ‘Being a work from home mom is not like being a stay-at-home mom who is not working’

    Someone at my work place told me she doesn’t have another job outside the part-time hours she works. She then told me she has five children, and my first response was, ‘yeah, of course you don’t have another job…’ with an incredulous tone.

    In other words, I view stay-at-home-mums as working too 🙂

    I’m kinda glad my kids are older now. They ‘pester’ a lot less, and they’re not around as much anyway. That’s the only downside.

    I’ve had a few remote jobs in the past. The first was when my youngest was around 16. Fortunately, they understood that when I was working, I was working. The end.

    Once in a while, if they wanted something, they would pop a note under the door.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, aren’t they polite! Mine really never got with the program. Signed your ‘just typing’ mom, Carol. And I’m sure you followed my meaning — not like a mom who is able to ONLY focus on her kids. Obviously, that is W O R K.

    • Kathie York says:

      Denise,
      I wondered about that, too!!! I don’t understand why people think a ‘stay at home mom’ ISN’T a working mom. Thanks for mentioning it. K.